Image of author, Jessica Beaty, in front of image of children playing on a playground. Caption reads,

The Importance of Social Skills in an IEP by Jessica Beaty

best special education resources iep goals iep meetings iep resources iep table iep teams online special education resources resources for special education teachers special education solutions successful iep meetings tips for iep meetings Apr 18, 2022

For years, parents have shared concerns about how the education system has focused heavily on academics while leaving little space for play, social activities, and building friendships. If you talk to anyone working at your child’s school, it is likely they will have a similar concern. No matter what we do, we continue to move further away from developing social skills in favor of rigorous academic achievement. So, how can a community of parents and teachers come together and change this? 


What are Social Skills?

Social skills are the tools we use to communicate, interact, and build healthy relationships with one another.  Learning to identify, express, and regulate your emotions is a vital skill in all areas of our lives. These skills are taught first by the child’s parents and continue to develop in school through a social-emotional curriculum. 

 A few examples of social skills to prioritize at home and at school are: 

  • Being able to ask for help respectfully
  • Awareness of feelings of others
  • Understanding and following rules and directions
  • Cooperating and turn-taking
  • Making friends and being a good friend
  • Listens, use manners, and respects others' space

These are only a few of the many social and emotional skills that are foundational to building appropriate social behavior. 


Importance of Developing Social Skills

Supporting your child in learning ways to adapt and being comfortable in various social situations are the building blocks to establishing relationships with others. Kids are social by nature and friendships help you practice trust, empathy, and humor. It also assists with learning more about yourself: your wants, your needs, and how to choose positive relationships. 

When you look back at your day, there is no way to avoid social situations completely. For instance, you can avoid grocery shopping by ordering delivery, but you still have to navigate the app, sign off on delivery, and respond to any questions during shopping. You can also avoid shopping for clothes by ordering them online, but if they do not fit, you will have to call to request a return. All these take social skills. 

What is your schools’ role? 

Schools can be an amazing place for kids to learn and practice social skills as long as the environment is set up in a way that supports their emotional needs. Teachers play a significant role in this. The classroom creates a special space for kids to learn through interacting with other kids as long as it’s safe, inclusive, and an understanding environment. 

Here are a few areas that schools can help aid in social skills learning: 

  • Offer guidance in real-time.
  • Teach flexibility in learning and trying new things.
  • Teach openness to others' ways of navigating their life.
  • Offer inclusive, structured activities for all students.


Collaboration between school and parents

Recently, many students experienced years of virtual learning and the lack of social interaction limited access to many positive interactions that the school setting brought to both teachers and students. Both parents and schools are looking for an outside source to blame the social slide on but are overlooking a key player: TIME. 

The educational system has pushed accelerated academics and curriculum-based social-emotional learning instead of natural, open-ended playtime. The lack of available time in each school day doesn’t breed many options to socialize without a reason to socialize except for lunch and recess. But even those are being shortened or cut altogether due to fitting in another curriculum-based specialty, an intervention, or punishment. 

So, how can parents and schools work together to increase social opportunities for our children? Here are few ideas:

  1. Integrate social skills between the general education classrooms and special education classrooms. 

The special education students have time to work on functional communication and social skills with others and the general education students will learn patience, understanding, and finding commonality with a peer they normally wouldn’t get to spend time with. It’s mutually beneficial!

  1. Model appropriate social skills and self-regulation. 

Remember, an unregulated adult cannot support an unregulated child. Showing your child or student how you calm yourself before connecting to solve an issue, will help model appropriate behavior. 

  1. Discuss with your IEP team how behavioral punishment by taking away recess, lunch with their peers, or a special class does not reinforce positive behavior. 

Recess, lunchtime, and specials fall under unstructured time, and children can have a difficult time with self-regulation outside of the structured classroom. Instead of taking these away, a better option would be to have an aide or teacher support your child through the challenges until they are comfortable. 

  1. Offer parent training and resources to support parents in how to support social skills at home. 

Yes, parents, you can and should have training opportunities as part of your child’s IEP. Anything that your child is learning at school (academic, social support, behavioral support, self-regulation tools, sensory tools, etc) can be shared with you to use at home. If there is an area the school staff needs to understand more about your child, you can request staff training for those individuals and include it with your child’s IEP.

When parents and schools work together to create an environment that fosters social-emotional skills, kids not only receive lifelong benefits, but they thrive! 


About the Author:

Jessica Beaty is an autistic mom of two, a special education consultant, and a Master IEP Coach®. She helps parents feel confident working with their IEP team by knowing what to share about their child’s learning needs so the IEP is focused on the right areas. Her expertise is with preschool through elementary age families with or without official diagnosis of autism, adhd/add, specific learning disability, and sensory processing support needs.

Connect with Jessica on Instagram

Find Jessica in the Master IEP Coach® Directory


If you liked this and want IEP strategies, then you’ll love these episodes of the Special Education Inner Circle podcast: 

#120 How High School Counselors Can Help the IEP Team

#99 3 Surprising Insights from an Emotional Support Classroom Teacher

#50 PLEASE, Don't Skip Speech Services with Chris Wenger





Write Better IEP Goals. Reduce IEP Conflict.

Learn More About Becoming a Master IEP Coach®